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Sunday, 24 December 2017

Y'ha-nthlei or bust...; Me and Lovecraft

If you want to see an earlier post about my feelings towards the work of Tolkien, please look here.

My relationship with H.P. Lovecraft is complicated to say the least. My encounters with his work were non-existent until I accidentally heard an abridged reading of At The Mountains of Madness on what was once Radio 7. I later heard another reading, this time of The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Then for my 20th birthday my father bought me a book dubbed Necronomicon; The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft. This large book contains thirty-six stories from Lovecraft's body of work, including his entire Cthulhu-related bibliography, several stories from his Dream Cycle including the posthumous novella The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, and a few other notable stories and poems.

Once I got into Lovecraft, I began seeing his influence in other works I enjoyed at the time, such as Hellboy and The Fifth Element, and later The Scarifyers and Blood-C. I also quickly realised that his writing wasn't the kind the modern world is used to reading in popular fiction. Very long words, exhaustively descriptive and plodding prose, and the use of several archaic phrases and expressions make it a bit of a drudge for modern readers. I also saw some elements that others might look over more readily. These are that none of his key characters were women; and that his enemy characters or the worshippers of his pantheon are described with terms such as "negro", "mongrel", "scum", "mulatto", "hybrid", and other casual racist or elitist epithets. There are some things I'm willing to tolerate, but such blatant and casual degradation isn't one of them. I later learned that his circumstances and the culture he was raised in led him to hold these prejudices, but it's still a bitter pill to swallow.

There was also an extra element; my work focuses on human accomplishment and individual power, in addition to openly critiquing class or race-based divisions in society. Lovecraft's work most famously focuses on humanity's insignificance in the greater scheme of things, and portrays the more successful or enduring races as congregational and caste-based. He often goes into nihilistic territory and frequently relies on insanity (in his time a piteously misunderstood condition which resulted in occasionally terrible abuse in the name of medical care) as a plot development. This allows for some truly disturbing uses of the unreliable narrator, but it also reflects upon Lovecraft's opinion of humanity as a whole and the so-called "oddities" within it in particular.

Thankfully, many authors are in a position to rectify that. Due to a variety of circumstances and events, virtually all of Lovecraft's work is in the public domain. Indeed, he openly allowed contemporary authors to borrow from and incorporate his work into their own, with August Derleth becoming the largest contributor to what came to be known as the Cthulhu Mythos after Lovecraft himself. Derleth, together with Conan creator Robert Howard and successor Richard Tierney, have expanded upon and borrowed from Lovecraft's work. More and more authors have been influenced by the Mythos, with some additions being dead serious and others - such as Neil Gaiman's I, Cthulhu - being more humourous. Now, I think it's my turn. Instead of complaining to myself without end of Lovecraft's defects, I should follow his advice and use his work to create something of my own. Using my style, with my approach to characters and plot, but using an available and beloved fictional universe.

If you want to listen to what I consider a good reading of Lovecraft, listen to this; an unabridged reading of The Call of Cthulhu by actor Garrick Hagon.

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